Lance Lopez by Alex Solca

If you’re a keen blues rock disciple, you’ll know the two recent albums by Supersonic Blues Machine, West of Flushing, South of Frisco (2016) and Californisoul (2017). These big-toned barrages of heavy blues had such stellar six-string cameos – from Billy F Gibbons, Warren Haynes, Steve Lukather, Eric Gales, Robben Ford, Walter Trout, Robben Ford, Eric Gales and Chris Duarte – that you’d be forgiven for overlooking Supersonic Blues Machine’s ever-present guitar slinger on all the tracks, Lance Lopez.

But 40-year-old Lopez is now back in his own right, proudly center-stage, on his crushing new blues rock bonanza Tell The Truth. It’s the sixth album under is own name, and Lopez comes with a wealth of experience, both as a sideman for hire and as a student of blues-rock. He has a contacts book to die for, true, but this album’s about him...

Although born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Lopez is a Texas bluesman through and through. You can hear echoes of SRV in his fat tone, the clear influence of mentor and friend Billy F Gibbons, the stinging attack of Freddie King too. All amp’d to the max. He also happens to be crazy about Gibson guitars. Which made it a no-brainer to ask him...

Were you spurred on to make a solo album by cutting the two acclaimed Supersonic Blues Machine records?

“Well, Supersonic Blues Machine was always a temporary thing, really. It was more (drummer and producer) Fabrizio Grossi’s idea. I actually started recording Tell The Truth with Fabrizio and that kinda sidebar’d into Supersonic Blues Machine. I recorded half of Tell The Truth when we were also doing West of Flushing…  and finished it off during making Californisoul.”

Lance Lopez by Alex Solca

But this is very much your own thing: Supersonic Blues Machine seemed a lot about the guests?

“To a degree. But all those guitar players are my friends and heroes, guys I have known for years. It was certainly great to go out and play live for the first one, especially with Billy. I grew up as a sideman, playing for many legendary artists. I didn’t feel like I wanted to fight for center-stage in Supersonic Blues Machine, if that’s what you mean. To be support other great players is a great thing, believe me.”

But for someone who’s not a household name, you have an incredible resume: you started playing guitar at 8, Billy Gibbons became a mentor aged 16, you were musical director for Johnnie Taylor at 17…?

“Yeah, I’ve been blessed. Through playing with Johnnie Taylor, I ended up backing Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Johnny Guitar Watson, Little Milton – a lot of great artists when I was just a kid, really. Half the time I didn’t even know who they really were, y’know? But I was onstage with ‘em!

“And later on, I was fortunate enough to play with ZZ Top, Johnny Winter… like I say, I’ve been blessed.”

Tell The Truth is a very honest album: you talk a lot about your past struggles with substances. Yet it’s not a ‘down’ album, it’s positively full of life. Is that how you wanted it?

“Yep. This album was my therapy! And I’m not just saying this, but my guitar got me through so much of the darkness. For too long, I thought I needed all these other substances to do that as well, but really – truly – playing the blues is what really eased so much of the pain. It’s the comfort in the darkness.

“I didn’t want to make the record all dark and minor key, though. I listen to the blues to feel better. You don’t want to listen to music and feel worse after! So it’s a hopeful record, it’s honest, it’s bittersweet… but I hope people enjoy it and find it therapeutic too.”

Lance Lopez by Alex Solca

In your early days, you played a lot of Strats. In recent years, you’ve become a huge Gibson fan. What was it that made you change?

“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Jimi Hendrix, so I had to have a Strat. But I always had a Gibson too, first off it was an SG. I soon had Les Pauls though, because the most influential blues rock records to me – like others – was John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers’ Beano album. And after that, Cream, Led Zeppelin II, the Jeff Beck records [Truth, Beck-Ola, Blow By Blow] where he played a Les Paul. So I always wanted to incorporate that into my sound too.”

And I hear you got some good advice?

“Yeah! I opened for B.B. King, and I took him along a Stratocaster to get signed. And B.B. actually said; ‘hmm, all you young guys playing blues rock now are playing Stratocasters… you need to get a Gibson!’ When B.B. tells you that, what do you do, man [laughs]? When I was out with ZZ Top, I had Strats and Gibsons, mainly Flying Vs. And Billy Gibbons would help me find my sound at soundcheck and when I pulled out the Gibsons he was like: ‘mmm, now that’s your tone.’ So between B.B. and Billy’s advice… well, that shifted me over to Gibsons pretty much full time.”

Tell The Truth has got blazing guitars all over it: tell us about your favorites…

“My main Les Paul is a ‘59 Reissue ‘R9’ from the Gibson Custom Shop. The way it was explained to me was that they’ve recreated so many of the great bursts, they had a few random runs they also had in the Standard Historics and True Historics that had many of those characteristics. They mixed and matched specs from some of those very famous bursts like the [Gary Moore] #1, Pearly Gates, the “Hotel California” 1959 Les Paul or whatever on some these more ‘regular’ guitars. But it’s kinda random. I just got a call, they sent down a guitar to Austin with a note: this is one is a special one. We think you’ll like this one. And I did!”

With your celebrity friends, you must have played a few ‘real’ ‘59s too?

“Yes, but I think there’s a general point. From my experience, you can’t really say there’s a difference between the actual vintage ones and reissues. I’ve played some real ‘59s and compared them to my guitar, and I’d choose mine every time! Yes, some ‘59s are magical and they could well be worth $300,000 – but others I’ve played, I prefer mine. And other people who’ve played mine, they agree. The Custom Buckers in mine are amazing, I have to say that.

“So they’re all ‘real’ bursts, to me. It’s just some are vintage and some are reissues! Gibson Custom have been building some really, really good ones lately.”

In the video for “Down To One Bar”, you manage to cram in playing a whole range of your Gibsons. Just because you could?

“Haha, yeah I had to do it! That Firebird was a limited run in Pelham Blue of the 1961 Firebird V. I never really played a Firebird until I started opening for, and hanging out with, Johnny Winter. I went to Johnny’s house one day and he just thought Firebirds would suit my style. He had tons of ‘em at his house. He just said; go take one and play it for a couple of days. And I bonded with it.”

And you like that Firebird mini-humbucker sound?

“Yeah, with the Firebird is how I managed to get the transition – from the sound of a Strat to near a Les Paul. I’ve talked a lot with Warren Haynes about this, too. We were talking about Firebirds and it’s a sound that Warren calls ‘twangy’. But Warren said he prefers the non-reverse, because he feels the sound is a little fatter. He reckons a non-reverse is little closer to a Les Paul than a reverse.

“I also have a newer 2014 sunburst. I had some custom pickups wound for it – Alncio V magnets but wound very hot and that didn’t make it super-gain-y, but it just ‘widened’ the mini-humbucker sound. They sound a little more like a PAF. That’s my main slide guitar. The Pelham Blue doesn’t really do that. That’s a classic Firebird sound.”

And you’ve got the obligatory ‘photo-shoot' guitar: what’s that old ES archtop?

“It’s early ES-175. I got it that from Gibson in Beverly Hills. Yeah, it was great for the photo-shoot as I could play it out in the desert! But it’s got a lovely acoustic tone, as well as plugged in. I’ve set that one up for bottleneck slide mostly. It’s a beautiful thing.”

More on the Standard Historic Gibson Les Paul Standard 59

Lance Lopez Tell The Truth is out now on Mascot Records.

Photos by Alex Solca